Constantino Ledda is convicted for murder and sent away for 29 years. He leaves behind his young wife Giovanna and their baby boy in the poor town in Sicily. There is a new law allowing young wives to divorce their husband if they are sent away for more than 10 years (even though Constantion declarers his innocence). Despite Giovanna loving her husband she is very poor and there is a rich man in town who desperately wants to marry her.
I really had an issue getting through this book. I wouldn’t say it was bad, but I don’t really know what I feel about it. So this is more a post trying to figure out what I think (or how I should understand it).
My first issue were how much emotions there was in the book. I have jokingly asked several times if the stereotype of Southern Europeans as hot blooded individuals really is this spot on. Then I remembered Pinocchio and laughed. But this does point to something interesting. When I read someone screaming and yelling like people do in this book a lot, even if I understand why, it does, to me, become almost comical. Yet I can understand this as a cultural difference. In fact I’m happy I was able to look past the drama (yes, yes I know this is a melodrama, but there are different ways of doing melodrama) and see that this is a brilliant cultural study. Grazia, when winning her Nobel prize, was rewarded due to her description of life in rural Italy. This stories does show how this town works and deals with things. How they react to something as modern as DIVORCE and the cruel life they lived in perpetual poverty.
My second issue was that there was one emotion I really felt lacking. It probably becomes even more clear because EVERY OTHER emotion is described in detail, if it deserves so or not. As stated there is a rich man who wants to marry Giovanna and she does warm up to him after Constantion goes to prison. But we are never introduced to Giovanna’s feelings. Not really. We know she is poor (she, her son and her mother are on the brink of starvation) and we get one scene where she states:
“It is to save my soul that I am doing what I am doing.”
That’s it. Considering the book hinges on her feelings towards the men in her life this is a grave lack in the book in my opinion. I can understand she might only go after the man because she wants food, but she never states this. This is relevant because Grazia is discussing an important feminist element, the right to divorce. The story leans heavily on Constantion and his emotions, and we as readers might end up feeling that Giovanna shouldn’t get a divorce. Had Giovanna stated that she is dying, she would probably end up with more sympathy from the reader, and more understanding for the choices she does. Yet, I don’t feel the book is trying to say Giovanna is unsympathetic. It does imply she would die if she doesn’t get a divorce, but it does lack something by not stating this outright. We never really get a feel to if Grazia is for or against divorce.
Then again maybe that’s not the point of the book. Maybe Grazia is just showing a slice of Italian life, not really caring to promote a position. Even though she might be by not giving us more insight into Giovanna’s emotions after her first outburst. Especially since every one else’s are on display the way they are. I don’t know. What do you think?